Francys Arsentiev – The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest
Francys Arsentiev - Sleeping beauty of everest

This is the sad story of the famous sleeping beauty of Mount Everest, as narrated by Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd, who were also climbing to the summit when they came across Francys Arsentiev popularly known as the sleeping beauty. before she passed away while descending from the mountain, she was the first woman from the United States to reach the summit of Mount Everest without the aid of bottled oxygen, on the same fateful day of May 22, 1998. Her cause of death, Hypothermia, and/or Cerebral Edema possibly due to exposure to very cold temperatures for a lengthy while.

Don’t leave me she said.

Her skin was milky white and totally smooth. It was a sign of severe frostbite, and it made her look like a porcelain doll. Her eyes stared up at me on focusing pupils. Huge dark voids. Don’t leave me, she murmured again. I felt sick. With her long, dark hair. She looked like me for a shocking second, I felt as if I was glimpsing a possible future for myself. The fact that she was conscious both encouraged and appalled me. It might be possible to save her, or we might yet have to leave her. I need to fetch the rest of my team. I said to her. We have several people here. We will try and help you. I will come back. I promise.

Why are you doing this to me?

She asked. This was Francys Arsentiev. And this is the good, the bad, and the pure evil of the possible outcome on Mount Everest.

She had dreams of making history, but on her way down, descending Mount Everest, something went terribly wrong.

Who was Francys Arsentiev?

Born Francys Yarbro on January 18, 1958. In Hawaii, very little is known about her life. She married in 1992 to Sergei Arsentiev, and together they climbed many peaks. She was the first woman to ski down Mount Elbrus in Russia and some of its east and west peaks. The couple decided to make history by reaching the summit of Everest without supplemental oxygen. Looking at Francis she wasn’t exactly the Everest type. She wasn’t a professional climber, and not really an obsessive adventurer, but the couple wanted to try. Mt Everest still isn’t a monster that you take lightly, it has its ways to remind climbers not to be cocky, and never to underestimate the power of mother nature. There is literally no technology in the world that can help someone stuck 29,000 feet high, with temperatures as low as minus 160 degrees.

Francys Arsentiev - Sleeping beauty of everest

Ready for the spooky bit of the story? In 1988, a young 11-year-old named Paul woke in a cold sweat from a nightmare and went immediately to tell his mother about it. And in the nightmare, the boy sees climbers stuck on a mountain and heavy snow. The boy watched as the snow surrounded the climbers and then they died. What scared the boy the most was the climbers were Sergei and Paul’s mother Francis. Even more spine-chilling. The nightmare happened the night before the Mount Everest climb. Paul begged his mother Francys not to go. She reassured him as best she could and told him she had to do this. As I said Francys was not a professional climber, but Sergei had a lot of climbing experience, even earning the nickname “The snow leopard”. The pair did indeed make it to the summit of Everest without any supplemental oxygen. Making Francys, the first woman from the US to do so. So climbing Mount Everest takes around 19 days to make it to Basecamp. From the base camp to the summit of Mount Everest takes about 40 days. And then from the summit down the mountain is about 30 to 40. So overall it could take about 90 days or three months for the complete trip.

See also: Mount Kilimanjaro vs Everest basecamp

The couple had reached the summit pretty much issue free. It was during the descent when issues came up. What exactly happens isn’t fully known. But a couple who were climbing to the summit would tell reporters what befell this couple on their tragic day. It was Woodall and Kathy who recount that on their climb and they came across Francys in her purple jacket. They noted her frozen body looked like Sleeping Beauty, which later on, the press coined the name sleeping beauty on Everest. The couple sank in when they figured Francys was dead and took a respectful moment, but when they were about to move on, they noticed the body violently spasm Francys was still alive, mumbling something.

The couple would go closer to the body and realize they knew the woman from the base camp. They had met her and even had tea with her. To them. She wasn’t very passionate about climbing. She was more so accompanying her husband. They remembered her talking more about her child and life back home. Often on Everest, the air is 1/3 of the oxygen done at sea level. Francys was now struggling for air, her face was frostbitten, and she wasn’t fully conscious. Like an SOS on repeats, Francys would repeat the same sentence stuck on a loop.

Don’t leave me. Why are you doing this to me? And I am an American.

She’d said these phrases over and over and her face and skin had turned Snow White. She looked like a wax figure preserved in the snow forever. The couple would remark she looked like Sleeping Beauty. Later, when other climbers came across her and took photos. The Press seized the moment by calling her the sleeping beauty of Everest for eye-catching headlines. As to the cause of her death. Hypothermia was a definite cause. But it is also believed Frances took a fall resulting in a brain injury like cerebral edema.

Francys Arsentiev - Sleeping beauty of everestSince the mountain is very high, they couldn’t try to drag the body thousands of feet down to base camp because probably a fate like Francys’ was highly likely to happen to them. It would have been almost impossible to make it with her to base camp, and she probably wouldn’t have survived the long journey. Siergei, Francys’s husband had lost her during the descent. Sergei got to camp but couldn’t find Francys. He was advised to wait and allow her to come to camp rather than him going back up. So he waited for hours. And when he couldn’t wait anymore, he went out to look for Francys. The whole day he looked, but sadly he died too on the mountain. A year later, Sergey was found. He appeared to have fallen like Francys and died of hemorrhaging.

David Sharp, the controversial death on Mount Everest in 2006

Francys Arsentiev’s Dream

In 1992, Francys and Sergei Arsentiev tied the knot. They embarked on numerous adventures together, conquering several Russian peaks, such as Peak 5800m which they aptly named Peak Goodwill. Additionally, they successfully tackled Denali via the West Buttress route. Arsentiev achieved the remarkable feat of being the first U.S. woman to ski down Elbrus and also reached the summits of its east and west peaks. As time went on, she nurtured a desire to become the first U.S. woman to ascend Everest without relying on supplemental oxygen.

Sergei and Francys Arsentiev First attempts

In the month of May, specifically, May 1998, Francys and Sergei Arsentiev made their way to base camp situated on Mount Everest. An accomplishment worth noting is their ascent on May 17 from Advance Base Camp to the North Col, where they managed to reach an impressive altitude of 7700 meters (25,262 feet), all while 21 other climbers triumphantly conquered the summit of Everest from the North. Another significant milestone occurred on May 19, when they successfully climbed to an even higher point of 8,203 meters (27,000 feet), commonly referred to as Camp 6. As if to underline their determination, Sergei conveyed through a radio transmission the positive news that both of them were in excellent condition, eagerly preparing for their much-anticipated summit venture scheduled for May 20, commencing precisely at 1:00 am. However, on this particular day, their journey to the summit was abruptly interrupted due to a setback with their headlamps at the First Step section. Consequently, they were compelled to retrace their steps and return to Camp 4 where they had spent the previous night. The following day, May 21, they found themselves back at Camp 6 after making a relatively short ascent of only 50 to 100 meters (200 to 300 feet) before once again making the difficult decision to turn back.

Sleeping beauty of Everest Summit and aftermath

Following two unsuccessful attempts to reach the summit, they embarked on their final ascent on May 22. The lack of oxygen at such high altitudes forced them to move slowly, resulting in a dangerously late summit. Consequently, they were compelled to spend another night above 8,000 meters (26,000′). Unfortunately, during the evening, the two got separated. Sergei descended to the camp the next morning, only to discover that his wife hadn’t arrived yet. Realizing that she must be somewhere perilously high on the mountain, he set out to find her, carrying an oxygen tank and medicine. The details of the subsequent events remain uncertain, but the most credible accounts suggest that on the morning of May 23, Francys Arsentiev encountered a team of Uzbek climbers who were nearing the summit. She was barely conscious, displaying symptoms of oxygen deprivation and frostbite. As she lacked the ability to move independently, they provided her with oxygen and carried her down as far as they could. However, their exhaustion from depleted oxygen made it impossible to continue their efforts. Francys was still alive at this point. In the evening, as the Uzbek climbers descended to the camp, they encountered Sergei Arsentiev on his way back up to her. This is the last known sighting of Sergei.

Death of Francys Arsentiev a.k.a the Sleeping Beauty

On the morning of May 24, Ian Woodall from Britain, Cathy O’Dowd from South Africa, and a group of Uzbeks came across Francys Arsentiev during their ascent to the summit. They came across her in the same spot where she had been left the previous evening. Nearby, they found Sergei Arsentiev’s ice axe and rope, but he was nowhere to be seen. Despite their efforts to help Francys, Woodall and O’Dowd had to give up their summit attempts due to her deteriorating condition, the treacherous location, and the freezing weather. They were unable to do anything more for her and had to descend to camp. Sadly, Francys was found lying on her side, still attached to the guide rope, and she passed away. She was 40 years old and had one son. She earned the nickname “Sleeping Beauty” in reference to her lifeless body. The mystery surrounding Sergei’s disappearance was eventually solved a year later by Jake Norton, a member of the 1999 “Mallory and Irvine” expedition. Norton discovered Sergei’s lifeless body further down the mountain face, suggesting that he had tragically fallen while attempting to save his wife.

Francys Arsentiev Face

Francys Arsentiev was the first American woman to summit Everest without bottled oxygen and the first woman to ski down Elbrus

Francys Yarbro Arsentiev came into the world on January 18, 1958, in the beautiful city of Honolulu, Hawaii. Eventually, in 1992, she tied the knot with Sergei Arsentiev, a renowned mountaineer from Russia. Their passion for climbing led them to conquer numerous peaks in Russia, including the remarkable ‘Peak 5800m’, which they proudly named “Peak Goodwill”. Francys went on to accomplish another impressive feat by being the first American woman to ski down the treacherous slopes of Mount Elbrus, conquering both its east and west peaks. However, her ultimate aspiration was to stand atop Mount Everest without relying on the aid of an oxygen bottle, making her the inaugural American woman to achieve such a remarkable feat.

Is sleeping Beauty’s body still on Everest?

The decision by mountaineers like Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd to leave Arsentiev behind in 1998, as well as the inability or unwillingness of climbers to assist David Sharp in 2006, underscore the difficult moral dilemmas that climbers face in extreme conditions where survival is often uncertain and resources are limited. These incidents have sparked debates and discussions within the mountaineering community about ethics, responsibility, and the human cost of pursuing such extreme challenges.

Efforts were made to bury Arsentiev’s body on Everest, led by Ian Woodall and a small party of Sherpas On May 23, 2007, exactly nine years since she died on the mountain on May, 23, 1998 on an expedition in 2007 dubbed “The Tao of Everest.” After Woodall located Francys Arsentiev’s body, they pushed it to fall to a lower location on the face and away from public view.

Why did they leave Francys to die on Everest?

Nine years ago before removing Francys Arsentiev’s body from public sight, Woodall and O’Dowd spent one hour with her even though she desperately pleaded for them not to leave her. However, despite her pleas, they ultimately made the difficult decision to do just that. O’Dowd reflected on the situation, noting that there was nothing they could have done to help the woman even before they reached her. It was a harsh reality that sometimes, despite people’s belief that there is a solution, there simply isn’t one. In such extreme environments, there is no easy way to call for emergency assistance like dialing 999 or calling an ambulance. When people urge you to “do something,” they really mean to seek help from someone else. However, at these high altitudes, there is no one else to turn to for aid. In these treacherous mountain peaks, every climber is expected to rely on themselves. Climbing beyond 8,000m becomes a race against time to survive. It is a place where acts of compassion can unfortunately lead to one’s downfall. O’Dowd vividly remembers Francys Arsentiev, 40, and her husband Serguei, who took on an extremely risky endeavour by climbing alone and without oxygen. She acknowledges that their attempt was incredibly impressive, but if unsuccessful, it meant certain death.

The dead bodies on Mount Everest

On Everest, the dead lie where they fall, like gruesome signposts, reminding climbers nature has the final say. No matter how skilled you are whether you climbed it before doesn’t matter. Nature decides on the day, the hour, and even the minute if you conquer Everest or not. Haunted by leaving Francis and then for years having to see climber photos of the woman here for years,  a team was gathered to go back and give Francis a dignified burial. They wrapped her in the American flag and moved her out of the passage. So climbers couldn’t find her and couldn’t take photos of her anymore. The tale of Sleeping Beauty Everest is famous amongst climbers, but more for cautionary reasons. Stories are not always motivational or inspirational. Sometimes they are more to warn. And that’s what Francys Arsentiev’s story is. Her story tells of achieving your goals, but also the dangers that await them when scaling down Everest. As to why she died it will never be 100% known high altitude, oxygen deprivation, exhaustion, injuries or other reasons could have caused this. If she was at a lower elevation, experts claim she may have survived without supplement oxygen. This story circulates amongst high-altitude climbers to remind them not to begin their journey without supplemental oxygen. Since 1998, the story of Francis hasn’t been forgotten. It made climbers even more aware of what they are signing up for when tackling major Everest without oxygen.

Who is Green Boots, the famous body on Mount Everest?

The tale and those who still lie up on  Mount Everest show others that even the most experienced can make mistakes. The tale warns us to not make decisions quickly and to learn from those who have successfully and unsuccessfully tackled Mount Everest. And that is the tale of Francys Arsentiev and the sleeping beauty of Everest.

Related: Are there any deaths on Mount Kilimanjaro?

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Comments

Elonda layne
Apr 15, 2023
Who died first up there and how many are there now
Leslie O'Leary
May 16, 2023
George Mallory's seven guides are the first recorded deaths; there are more than 200 bodies on Everest now.
Jon Reed
Sep 10, 2023
It's tragic and sad whenever death comes, but the mountain does not care about your ego. Sympathy for those who put themselves willingly in extreme danger will be in short supply.
Irina
May 18, 2023
Dont understand why to risk ? One should think about his family..
Shelly
Mar 5, 2024
Bless the souls of the departed. The climbers know the risks & consequences involved with climbing Everest, yet this is their passion. ❣️

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